It's been a week since Occupy Rochester group made their splash with a Zombie March and occupation of Washington Square Park. I finally had a chance to spend some time with them tonight - it was just great.
I wanted to share my field notes from the night. I plan to get out there as often as I can and sending updates on how they are progressing.
For background on the early days of the Occupy Rochester group read here.
For details from their biggest night, which included the Zombie March through downtown and peaceful standoff with Rochester Police Department which ended in 32 arrests read here.
I've been following along on Twitter as things developed with Occupy Rochester, and was impressed with them that night - both the creativity of the Zombie March and their ability to stay positive, using all the right moves of non-violent civil disobedience. (If you follow me on Twitter you'll know I'm a stickler for non-violence and positive engagement as the most effective strategy for lasting success, that night the Occupy Rochester community gave me enormous hope.)
While Occupy Rochester has been building their muscles as a group, I've been busy with my work on Progressive Congress News and helping where I can with Occupy-related activities like Occupy The Boardroom. (I can't take any credit for OTBR - I'm just happy to be a helper bee proud to have found some brilliant and committed folks who have worked their tails off putting together an action that gets right to the heart of what Occupy is about. I'm grateful that they let me be part of their work.) I've had more than a pang or two of wishing I could be more supportive of the work happening right in my own town. Tonight I had a few hours free, so I finally made the trip downtown bearing gifts of apples and bagels and peanut butter (the key foods of any protest I'll tell ya).
I had no idea what to expect at Washington Square Park - whether I would find 4 people or I'd be walking into a mask wearing festival of anger...
Based on the Twitter contact I knew that at least a few of the folks there would be personable, assuming they were actually there...
So here is what is really going on in Washington Square Park. Brace yourselves.
- They are enormously friendly (there were 35-40 there with more popping in and out)
- The age range is pretty broad 20 - 60ish
- Mostly guys, but as I hung out more and more women appeared, and they are definitely taking an active role and making themselves heard.
- There was not a mask to be found (but there were hats, mittens, scarves and one very cute rose colored ski pants set)
- They have really gotten themselves well organized, with spots for key stuff like the food table, the gear, and the livestream interview zone. They also have figured out how to quickly break things down and be ready to deal with the park curfew.
- I was there less than a minute before the first person asked if I was cold and I ended up with a blanket after the 5th person got worried about me (they don't know how many January protest days I have under my belt yet)
- They are NOT in that park just to have confrontations with police, in fact as soon as the first police officer arrived just after 11pm everyone immediately stepped off of park grounds and onto the sidewalk. They were careful to have representatives talk to the police and make it clear that they were not out to create confrontation. They would much rather work out an amicable arrangement with the city (more on that in a future post)
- They are having the same kinds of conversations that I'm seeing online from other locations and nationally, trying to feel their way through the process of connecting and creating a long term presence. How they manage their park occupation and how they will carry their group presence into the coming winter is very much on their minds, and they are talking it through together.
- They very much want to reach out and connect with the rest of the Rochester community and be as inclusive as possible.
- They are delighting in having a livestream video link to the wider world (I forgot how cool it really is to be able to do that until I saw each of them light up when talking about it.)
So that is Occupy Rochester on a chilly Friday night - a cheerful and engaged bunch of folks determined to talk about solutions to our shared community issues. Whatever you may hear about Occupy from people who aren't there, or who swoop in with an agenda to disparage Occupy for political reasons - right now and right here in Rochester there is a group of ridiculously normal and friendly people just sharing a small patch of space and making plans to make things better for everyone.
I'm looking forward to seeing what they will do tomorrow and beyond.